Editor’s Note: Katie Olthoff is an Iowa turkey farmer who writes about her family and farm on her blog, On The Banks of Squaw Creek.
I wanted to like it. I wanted to tell you that there’s no agenda, and it’s just a fun family film.
But that’s not true.
It wasn’t fun.
And there is an agenda.
My boys are used to seeing turkeys, so it was no surprise that Isaac, 2.5 laughed and yelled, “No Wa-ay” throughout the movie. He knew as well as we did that the turkeys on the screen were a far cry from the “Real Birds” on our farm.
The movie begins on a turkey farm, where Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson) is the outcast of his flock. The rest of the turkeys are happy to eat corn all day and dream of “turkey paradise” but Reggie has somehow discovered that “turkey paradise” is actually a Thanksgiving feast for humans.
Reggie gets thrown out of the barn, where the United States President and his family are waiting to choose a turkey to be pardoned, a long-standing Thanksgiving tradition meant to honor and thank turkey farmers. Reggie then travels to the White House and begins a life of luxury, watching tv and eating pizza.
Until he is kidnapped by Jake, a turkey determined to travel back in time and rescue the Thanksgiving turkeys.
The duo find a time machine at Camp David and manage to get inside during the first of several scary, violent scenes in the movie. They survive the time travel, only to join the “wild, undomesticated turkeys of the past” in running from hunters. Reggie falls in love. Jake and Reggie save the turkeys. Ooops, nope. Reggie leads the hunters to the turkeys’ underground lair. Jake and Reggie save the turkeys again.
And then, the best part of the movie. (Can you hear my sarcasm?) The Pilgrims and turkeys join together to enjoy a feast of Chuck E. Cheese pizza brought by a delivery boy from the future.
As a mom, Free Birds’ partnership with Chuck E. Cheese infuriates me. My boys are picky eaters. I’ve written about that before. So a movie that encourages kids to replace protein rich, lean turkey with calorie-laden pizza is a problem for me. I want children’s entertainment to promote healthy foods. Is that too much to ask?
As a former teacher, I know that children take things very literally. They will have trouble separating the “Free Birds” from the real turkeys we enjoy at Thanksgiving. So even if the pizza hasn’t swayed them, they may think that birds on a farm share the desire to escape and fear of butchering that Reggie and Jake felt. In reality, turkeys live comfortable lives in humane conditions from hatching to processing.
As an advocate for agriculture, the scene where Jake describes the “factory farm” where he was born was probably most upsetting to me. Jake states that he was “pumped full of formula.” Let me be clear: turkeys are never “pumped full” of anything. At every stage in their lives, they are fed a carefully rationed diet of corn and soybean meal with vitamins and minerals. Antibiotics are given when necessary, but steroids and hormones are never used in turkey production.
Those aren’t the only reasons to dislike this movie. Not only does it promote a vegetarian agenda, it’s not even funny! The only person in the theatre who laughed was Isaac. He’s 2 ½.
And it was violent. And scary. Adam, who is 5, loves to watch superhero shows, but this was too much for him. The turkeys are constantly trying to avoid death, and the hunter with his semi-magical gun powder was just too much.
We weren’t the only ones who disliked this movie.
The San Francisco Gate wrote that the movie portrayed “One of the more pivotal meals in human history, rewritten to include one of the worst foods.”
Entertainment Weekly tried to stay a little more positive. “The good news: The talking turkeys in Free Birds are so unappealing and unfunny that your kids will probably feel guilt-free eating their real-life counterparts this Thanksgiving. The bad news: You might have to sit through Free Birds.
But I think the New York Times sums it up the best. “The movie’s pro-vegetarian, pro-fast-food message is nutritionally dubious — and notably sponsored by Chuck E. Cheese’s. (This might be a good occasion to explain to your child what “product placement” means.) The movie subversively suggests not only that we should avoid the traditional foods at Thanksgiving, but also that we should have that meal delivered. Never has a holiday film seemed to hate the values of the event it’s celebrating so much. In the end, as after a junk food binge, “Free Birds” is likely to leave audiences fuzzy-headed and vaguely nauseated instead of nourished and satisfied.”
This Thanksgiving, skip Free Birds and Thank a Farmer instead.